Apparently, the Beatles were wrong. Happiness isn’t a warm gun. It’s a clean sink, and a clean slate for a married couple whose relationship has bogged down in petty fights over petty things, like not washing the dishes.
Happiness for viewers is this winning indie comedy-drama, which splits those two genres as neatly as an atom but gets the most energy out of the comedy side.
Band Aid is a patch for what ails the jaded movie lover. Aimed at an intelligent, self- and culturally-aware audience, it’s for hipsters as well as people who smile when they see hipsters or even hear the word. It’s a film that makes you feel as if you’re watching smart people talk, rather than sensing smart writers behind the scenes feeding actors their lines. It’s for people who appreciate honesty and enjoy indie films except for their strange allegiance to unhappy endings and Seriousness with a capital “S”. Which is to say, it’s that rare indie flick that delivers all the clever dialogue, ever-so-slightly offbeat characters, and smart scenic construction one hopes to encounter in a non-mainstream film, while also managing to make you laugh and feel something in the process.
Ben (Adam Pally) and Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones) are a childless married couple who find themselves focusing on small annoyances and lashing out at each other rather than talking about what’s really bothering them. The arguments aren’t even close to the shouting matches that Liz Taylor and Richard Burton made famous, but still, they take a toll. Something has to be done, so when, in a typically seriocomic moment, their therapist offers a diagnosis and then quickly announces she’s moving to Canada, they decide to take her advice and find a way to redirect their anger.
The arguments come closer to negative banter than knock-down, drag-out fights, though, and some of their comebacks are classic. As Anna’s irritation over the sink full of dishes grows and Ben offers up a complaint of his own—that their relationship has gotten to the point where she never even considers giving him a “blowjob”—she responds, “Why don’t I do the dishes and you can suck your own dick.”
When her complaints turn to his inability to feel anything or give sincere compliments, he replies, “You know, if we’re living in this post-feminist society where I have to do the dishes and you don’t have to blow me, like, ever, I would say it’s probably pretty fair that you would start giving me more compliments.” Funnily enough, their argumentative banter never grows tiresome, and that’s as much a tribute to the screenplay and the film’s pacing as it is to the actors.
One night, an “F-you” exchange escalates to where they’re both basically singing the phrase for added scornful emphasis and irony, and it provides enough of a release that they laugh and decide to sing out more complaints to each other. It feels so good that they decide to form a band so they can sing about all their annoyances. Seriously, how can you not love a film with a concept like this whose tagline is “Misery loves accompaniment”?
Pally and Lister-Jones do such a fine job of bringing their characters to life that you believe them and like them and want them to somehow figure things out. You enjoy spending time with them, because actor-writer-director Lister-Jones doesn’t allow them to wallow in self-pity or step into territory that might sabotage the seriocomic tone. The lovemaking scene, for example, is shot not as something so sensuous that it makes viewers feel uncomfortable as voyeurs, but as yet another extension of character and the way in which unresolved issues can dominate every waking thought (and action).
Under a veneer of cleverness, Band Aid displays an ease that only comes from truthful storytelling. It really does ring true that even the most compatible of couples can get on each other’s nerves when what’s really eating them are bigger things about their lives—some of which have nothing to do with the other person and some of which have everything to do with him/her.
In a way, it’s a power trio that drives the film, with Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live) living up to his quirky-strange deadpan characterizations from the sketch-comedy show Portlandia as the couple’s next door neighbor, Dave. He’s so deliciously odd and understated that when Ben and Anna finally decide to knock on his door after he lets it be known he played drums in high school and clearly wants to join them, when he doesn’t immediately answer Ben says, “I don’t think he’s home.” “I’m sure he’s just tending to the women he keeps in the basement,” Anna quips.
Like all good jokes, this one expands after the couple is invited inside, and sure enough there are two surprisingly (at least to Ben and Anna) attractive women who hover around Dave as if he were wearing Hugh Hefner’s cologne. And the gag just keeps growing, though to say any more is to spoil the fun. Lister-Jones employs the same technique in a memorable sequence set at a child’s birthday party at the house of one of the couple’s friends.
Band Aid is a confident a film with only one glaring misstep: after writing ostensibly for an erudite audience in the first half, Lister-Jones suddenly gets brain freeze and stops trusting her audience. That is, after giving viewers a richly drawn portrait of two very different yet like-minded individuals and their complicated relationship, she resorts to a long scene that can only be described as didactic. In it, Mom explains to her son the important differences between men and women—something that could have felt equally profound if it were only suggested dramatically (as, in fact, it had already been). From that misstep, the film momentarily loses its seriocomic edge and plunges more assertively into drama, which creates that “two halves” sensation that can feel manipulated, even though people’s lives routinely lurch back and forth between the serious and the comic.
In addition, several of the scenes feel less integral to the film and probably could have joined the ten-minute reel of deleted scenes that constitute this Blu-ray’s main bonus feature. But none of these flaws are enough to keep Band Aid from being one of the more entertaining and honest indie flicks I’ve seen in recent years, despite what sounds like a gimmicky premise.
Shout! Factory did a great job on the HD transfer, though viewers may find it disappointing that there’s no commentary of any kind included—only those deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a music video that seems unnecessarily pulled into the world of real-time documentary.